issue 157 | March 1986
Wayne Ellwood's article, 'Flame of faith' (NI 155), touched on the growth of fundamentalist religion in Latin America. This is a threat which anyone concerned for social justice on that continent should be taking seriously. It is difficult to go more than one or two blocks in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru, for example, without coming across a chapel of one sect or another. By no means all of them propagate conservative political philosophies, but a great many do.
It is ironic that, while the clergy of the Catholic Church and of the major Protestant denominations are now often significant forces for positive social change, a major focus of opposition should also be coming from a religious direction. This is a sinister development the origins and effects of which we should know more about. Is there anyone investigating this subject?
Wayne Ellwood (NI 155) writes that Nietzsche's proclamation that 'God is dead' ushered in the era of 'modem nihilism'. Not so. Nietzsche stood for the 're-evaluation of all values' in the light of the death of those moral laws rooted in unchanging beliefs - such as the Judeo-Christian idea of God. He would not have approved of the rejection of all values.
I do not feel that this describes myself or most of the gay people I know. It does show however the blind hatred that religious people are capable of. Many of the world's problems are religious in origin and the blood spilled over the centuries in the name of 'Gods' would fill the oceans.
Gloria Nafziger's description of Mennonites in Canada (NI 155) is hearteningly different from a Mennonite community I visited in Belize some years ago.
Mennonite settlements are found all over Central America. They came at the invitation of governments there to clear land and set up their farming communities. They sell chickens, eggs and other produce on the local market.
Some colonies are locked in a time-capsule, wearing 18th-century clothes and speaking archaic German. At the colony I visited the position of women was similarly static. They were good wives and mothers, bearing sons to work on the farms and daughters to help at home. The children grew up with limited horizons, marrying within the colony - leading to inbreeding that showed up in some of the more vacuous faces. The school was a cheerless room, devoid of visual interest, reinforcing the passivity of the children.
Only two (male) members of this community could leave its environs to transact business with the outside world.
We were received with warmth by these Mennonites, but somehow the experience was chilling.
Your issue on crime (NI 154) shows, convincingly enough, that people who are poor are more likely to end up in prison than those who are rich. But not all of the poor are criminals. Why is it that only some of them turn to crime? And why indeed do many rich people (including the 'villains' that Laurie Taylor mingles with), who are under no such economic or social pressure, become, or remain, criminals?
It does seem that there are some people who do not feel constrained by the normal rules of behaviour - whatever the origin of such rules might be. This (depending on their level of skill) can be very advantageous. You would do the rest of us a favour by showing us how to acquire a similar level of moral immunity.
Of course we would all then steal issues of your excellent magazine, and you would have to steal both the articles and the paper to print them on. But think how much more interesting life would be.
In the December issue of NI you describe how the police create criminals by persistently picking on some of the less powerful groups in society. But you don't talk about the reverse process: how the police refuse to make some people into criminals. The police turn a blind eye if, for example, a man is beating up his wife, or if women are attacked in the street, as happened recently in Chicago. Presumably the police felt that these women's male attacker was a not a real criminal.
Oranges or lemons?
I challenge your use of the terms 'democracy' and 'freedom' (NI 153). You rightly accept that democracy means the rule of the people (by the people for the people). But this term has been distorted in the West to suggest merely the interplay between two or more sections of society, represented by political parties - Oranges or Lemons. Can you really call such a system democratic? How much of our population in this democracy is disenfranchised by this system?
Socialism offers a genuine alternative. It is not fair to assert that 'a small minority arbitrarily decides matters' or that workers cannot express their preferences. I suggest that the people of a socialist community are a good deal more content with their lives and their government than their counterparts in the West.
And then there's 'freedom'. Ours is a competitive society: we have the freedom to shove others aside and to make ourselves rich at their expense. The restrictions of a socialist society are mainly imposed so that this kind of 'freedom' cannot flourish. The fact that it still occasionally raises its head is not surprising, for socialism is an order of society that is still in the early stages of development, permanently under siege from outside forces that are eager for it to fail.
The only effective solution for the Third World is therefore not capitalism but their own independent form of socialism, an indigenous socialist economy with its own organisations, allowed to develop without interference.
All the examples of socialism you gave in your November issue - Nicaragua, Russia, Ethiopia - were forms of capitalism, mainly state capitalism. All the theories of socialism you offered (Marxism-Leninism, Maoism) were to do with the State and, as the State is the political expression of class society, they were by their very nature antagonistic to the classless society that socialism is. The only nod you made towards the real meaning of socialism - i.e. a moneyless, wageless, stateless society of free access and democratically run common ownership - was in your piece on Libertarian Socialism. But even there you ridiculed it by the question 'Is it really possible to consider the democratic control of something as complex as an airline?' The answer to this question of course is 'Yes it is' - by the democratic principle of delegated authority which a self-managed society would use without having, as you mockingly put it, 'to go to meetings all the time just to keep things going.'
In northern Newfoundland where most sealing took place people live with few frills. Before the 'boycott' which has destroyed the sealing industry here, the family who killed a few seals (thereby increasing its annual income by a few hundred dollars) was enabled to do things that most of us take for granted: buying their children birthday presents or new shoes; installing running water into their house or buying a chainsaw so they can chop wood - often the only source of heat in this harsh environment.
It's too late to change things now. Thanks to Greenpeace and the thousands of people who contributed money to it, the sealing industry is finished. But how many of those donors took the time to check out the other side of the issue? How many of these people would do without the 'frills'? And how many were taken in by Greenpeace's colorful photos of red blood on white ice?
I was a supporter of Greenpeace until I lived here and saw the other side. So now I check out all sides of an issue before jumping onto anyone's bandwagon.
Can I ask whether your recent decision to start wrapping NI in plastic for distribution was made for reasons of either convenience or cost cutting? Because, if so, I am sure that most NI subscribers would, like myself, be willing to meet an increase in subscription prices to cover the extra cost of reverting to the use of (preferably recycled) paper envelopes.
If our concern for the fragile ecology of this planet and our arguments for a fairer allocation of its resources are to have any meaning at all, we must take decisions which put theory into practice, rather than clogging the earth's surface with yet more non-biodegradable, one-journey packaging.
Ed. note: Good question. First, only the UK office is guilty of plastic-wrapping the magazines. Other NI offices in North America and Australasia are blameless. Second, yes it is cost-cutting. We have saved about £5,000 ($7,000) a year, nearer £10,000 ($14,000) if we had been using recycled envelopes. The money saved has been used to promote the magazine. And this economy has been one of a number which has helped us hold the subscription price for more than three years.
Our foremost objective is promoting the message to the maximum audience. But the issue is worrying, not helped by this Effluence issue of the NI. Perhaps we made the wrong choice.